Helping Others Walk
June 4, 2000 Acts 3:1-26
So far in Acts we have been given assurance that we can do what Jesus left for us to do;
we have learned how to make decisions Jesus left for us to make;
we have come to better understand the nature of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gave us and what he does for us;
and we have heard the Spirit's message about the necessity of salvation.
Last week we heard from Dan Hough (who did a great job in his first time preaching to us) about the nature of the body of Christ and its characteristics.
In verse 43 of that passage it says that everyone was filled with awe, and many signs and wonders were done by the apostles.
Christ is building his church.
There were 3,000 believers added to the 120 disciples at the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the resulting preaching of Peter.
Then the Bible says in 2:47 of last week's passage that the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Now in today's passage in Acts 3:1-26 we will see another significant increase in the number of believers.
In fact, 5,000 more are added, and it is again through the power of the Holy Spirit and the preaching of Peter.
Although the action of the Spirit this time is different than the wind and tongues of fire we saw at first.
This time the attention of the people is gained not by the action of the Spirit upon the disciples but by the action of the Spirit through the disciples.
The Spirit is now fully indwelling them for the building of Christ's church.
But as we look at this morning's passage, let us ask ourselves a question.
Certainly we too want to have a part in building Christ's church, but where do we start?
There is so much to do, and how do we sort it all out?
We are so often overwhelmed and even confused.
Have you ever been so aware of the immensity of a particular task before you that you are immobilized?
It helps to compartmentalize these things – to break them up into smaller tasks – in order to accomplish them.
But which compartment do we take first?
As I observe young mothers (my own daughter, Selena, case in point) I am amazed at the immensity and overwhelming nature of the task before them. Children can be so demanding as to drive you to tears in frustration not knowing what to do.
Even the proverbial camel's back can be broken by that last straw.
Grandparents too can feel the pinch (we just spent an extended weekend with our two oldest grandchildren – and don't forget Mikey).
Young fathers working long hours or two jobs can feel shut down emotionally, physically, and mentally by the prospect of sorting out another day's demands. Children themselves can become overwhelmed at the packed schedules of school and extracurricular activities that continue non-stop toward cultural and parental expectations (examples: little league, swim lessons, camp, etc.).
Those of us who may be in their years of declining energy and health can become overwhelmed even by the prospect of another day of living life or another trip to the grocery store or doctor's office.
But we aren't dead yet, and life is still to be lived, and Christ's kingdom is not complete until he comes, and we still want to have a part in the commission.
But if you are like me I get so much Christian mail every day it is staggering to consider the depth and legitimacy of the worldwide need in building the kingdom of Christ, the true church.
There are requests for funding and help for ministry to the cities, for persecuted countries, for disaster relief, for missionaries, for hospitals, for radio broadcasts, for discipleship ministries, for equipping pastors, for Bible translation, for defense of morality and family values, for godly political process, for AIDS relief, for rescue missions, for literature distribution, for war relief, for orphans, for Christian education, for church planting, for children's ministries, etc.
Almost all these requests are legitimate and deserve to be supported.
And you cannot drive many places, especially downtown, that you don't run across several homeless people begging for money.
You tell yourself you just can't help them all.
But just walking the streets causes you to want to stop and tell the gospel to any number of people if you thought they would listen or could figure out who would listen.
So what do we do?
I think today's passage gives us some answers.
Let's look at the model of this second wave of success in building Christ's church as Peter and John go up to the temple for prayer.
The task that Jesus left them would tend to overwhelm any of us.
So how do we sort it out and respond to the need of helping others into the kingdom of our God and Christ?
The Big Question:
How must we respond as Christians to those in need around us?
I. Cycle One
A. Narrative v. 1
There were three times a day for prayer for the faithful Jew.
Those in Jerusalem went to the temple to pray.
Times of prayer were at 9:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m., and sunset.
Jesus himself taught persistent prayer.
Luke 18:1 ¶ Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
In light of the task that Jesus left the apostles, what do you suppose they might have been going to pray for?
They were in the midst of his beginning kingdom program.
People were coming to faith every day.
Besides their faithful and burning desire to worship God, and praising him for this marvelous increase in the numbers of believers, Peter and John were probably praying for more converts and for how to minister and teach those that had come to faith in Christ through them.
They were living out their faith and their God-given task.
They were going about the daily task (and joy) of ministry.
They were continuously devoting their lives to God and to those he had given them.
How often do we stop during our daily routine to pray for the ministry that comes with our faith in Christ?
Because the hearts of Peter and John were open to God, their hearts were open to those ministry opportunities God might reveal to them.
When we put God first in our lives, we will be open to seeing and responding to what God wants us to do with our lives.
If we have lapses in our devotion we will not notice the opportunities for ministry he gives us, or perhaps not take those opportunities even if we notice them.
We will often put other things first – most likely ourselves.
We make great error when we get too busy to serve God even when we are busy serving him – or so we think that we are serving him.
God's priority is building the kingdom of Christ.
This must also be our first priority.
Indeed, he has said that it must be our first priority.
Remember that the disciples were to outwait everything else until the H.S. came upon them to equip them for their commission.
And then they were to go in the power of the H.S. to be his witnesses.
As Christians we must respond to the needs of those around us by putting devotion to God first in our lives.
God always amazes me by how he hammers home the lessons of the messages he gives me to preach.
(Recount the situation of Wednesday at Pastor's Conference when I noticed two black men in need that I did not take initiative toward.)
(This was a time when I thought I was supposed to be ministered to, and I planned to be exempt from overtly ministering to others for a few days. But God had something he wanted to show me. He didn't give me these opportunities when I wasn't busy and had time for them.)
This was a test and a lesson.
God's job is to teach me that I might teach you.
The lesson here is that in ministry – for all of us – there are no real breaks regarding kingdom priorities.
When we put God first, we will put others first – always.
And we need not fear that God will give us whatever rest we need – in his time, not ours.
In fact, our time is God's time anyway.
He owns my life and yours.
Many ministry opportunities only have one opportunity.
It is possible to get too busy doing everything except what matters most.
If my devotion to God is what it should be at any given moment, I will notice and respond to what he gives me to do.
We must remember our first love.
II. Cycle Two
A. Narrative vv. 2-5
So what we find with Peter and John's devotion to God in going to the temple to pray is a ministry opportunity right in front of them that they not only take notice of, but they respond to it because their hearts are prepared for it.
Coinciding with their progress toward the gate is a beggar who is being carried there, as he has been every day probably for some time, since he was crippled from birth.
He was being placed there as his place of occupation.
His job was to beg for money to live on since he could not work.
This was the Jewish Social Security Office or Dept. of Welfare.
No doubt they had come near to crossing paths before in the press of the crowds.
But this day would be different.
The beggar takes notice of Peter and John and addresses them directly, asking them for money as he sits at the temple gate called "Beautiful".
The "Beautiful Gate" (Nicanor Gate named for its Alexandrian donor) was the main and largest gate of the temple, facing east, and most beautiful because it was made entirely of the most expensive bronze. It was in the Court of the Women facing the altar and the gate of the sanctuary and situated above fifteen steps, beyond which neither women nor the maimed or unclean could pass. This gate hosted beggars on its steps who could appeal for alms from those going to the Court of Israel.
Now a beggar asks everyone for money who crosses his space – his little plot of ground on the pavement.
Perhaps a response from even one in ten passersby would be a good day.
So a beggar's attention toward any one person would be short lived as he constantly searches the crowd before him for a response.
Now the best compliment you can give anyone, whether they are the dirtiest beggar on the street or the highest in the kingdom of God, is your undivided attention.
Both the great and the small are significant in the image of God.
So Peter and John give their undivided attention to the beggar who has addressed them – probably only half expecting to get anything from them.
But now that they have given their attention to him, the beggar is encouraged and indeed does expect to receive something.
Indeed, Peter and John demand his attention, telling him, "Look at us!"
They demand his full attention because of the value of what they are about to give him.
It will be something that will also demand a response from him.
As Christians we must respond to the needs of those around us by taking personal interest in those whom God reveals to us.
There was a third black man I met last Wednesday in Chicago.
I had not taken initiative toward the first two.
I did not say, "Look at me, I have something to give you."
But God gave me somewhat of a reprieve.
This man was awake and he asked me, "Can you give me any money for food?"
He got my attention, and I gave him my attention – and some help, with a blessing.
And on the way home from Iowa this last Monday, I met some other beggars of sorts.
Along side of I-88 in front of us was a van just recently turned upside down in a one-vehicle wreck on the side of the road with bodies lying all over.
The driver had leaned over to pick up the baby's bottle off the floor and lost control.
I knew what God wanted me to do in light of the lesson he was teaching me.
I stopped just before the ambulances arrived and prayed for those who were hurt and confused and crying.
I ministered as best I could considering the circumstances.
At least they knew a man representing God was there who cared.
I gave those six Hispanic women, one young boy, and two baby girls my undivided attention until they got medical help.
Most often the things God wants us to do are right in front of us.
We don't need to wonder and wander in confusion.
Like the accident I came across, the principle of triage applies.
You take the most important need first.
There are many needs around us.
But there are some who are crying for help.
They need to know that God's care for them is no accident.
We ignore them to the peril of the kingdom of God.
If they are ignored by those who represent God, then the reality of the kingdom of God does not exist for them.
III. Cycle Three
A. Narrative vv. 6-8a
Now those whom God reveals to us have many needs.
Those needs range all the way from medical to mental as well as monetary.
But there is a most precious commodity we possess that most people God reveals to us don't have.
Only those who have it can give it.
They can never give too much of it away.
It is not the money that most people ask for.
Indeed it is more precious than that.
It is the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
As Christians we are called by his Name.
Those who possess his Name possess his life by faith.
It is life eternal.
It is salvation from eternal death.
It is ultimate healing from the deathly disease of sin.
When we share Jesus, we share the greatest gift we could ever give.
We give intimacy and peace with God that enables a victorious life.
However, this is not to say that there are not other legitimate needs that God calls upon us to meet.
18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19 NIVUS)
Now when we take someone by the right hand in our Christian culture, it is the right hand of fellowship.
There is faith on the part of the beggar to take that hand and attempt to get up.
There is a divine and unspoken conversation going on here as well as the spoken one between Peter and John and the beggar.
The attention that has been fixed between them is a godly communication of power and trust.
The beggar believes this gift of Christ and gets up by faith in him.
He obeys the divine command of the apostle and begins to walk.
He has come into the fellowship of Christ and the apostles.
In the midst of that fellowship he rapidly increases in strength to the point where he can stand on his own.
Perhaps like Peter and John he himself one day will be able to take another person by the right hand of fellowship to help them stand on their own two feet of faith.
As Christians we must respond to the needs of those around us by sharing with them the greatest gift of God we have ever received.
Peter and John have just performed one of the miracles that Jesus said he would enable them to do in the advancement of his kingdom.
John 14:12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
Note that it is in the "Name of Jesus" that this miracle has been done and by which this beggar can walk.
Example of the "night bus ministry."
Produces self-induced miracles not in Jesus' name.
Thus, nothing of value is truly given.
It is a miracle whenever we give another person the gift of being able to "walk" the Christian life of faith in Christ.
'To walk" is the most common picture for the enablement of our spiritual life.
Helping another person walk is the greatest gift we can give.
Being able to walk means we are no longer crippled.
Being able to walk means we are now able to follow Jesus.
Being able to walk means we can now follow the path to freedom in Christ and obtain the destination he provides for us.
IV. Cycle Four
A. Narrative v. 8b
Indeed the destination is right before them in the temple.
This beggar has been holding down his plot of concrete in the Beautiful Gate for years without ever being able to pass through it to the altar right in sight within.
He was unclean from birth.
His worship 'must used to be' always at a distance.
He could never draw near to God.
But now he could run, hop, skip, and jump right up to the altar of God's mercy.
This former beggar now goes with Peter and John right into the temple courts to praise God directly.
He is healed, and he is happy, and he must express it.
As Christians we must respond to the needs of those around us by bringing them along with us to worship God as part of his true family.
All of us who come to the temple are beggars.
We wanted to go in and worship God in purity and truth but we were unable.
Our faith was crippled.
We couldn't walk.
We needed someone to show us how to walk – to give us strength to walk.
We sat in the Gate called Beautiful because we hungered for the beauty of God.
But we were unclean and ugly in our sin – we could not pass through the gate.
We needed someone to show us the way to his altar through the beauty of Christ.
And now through faith we too have been made beautiful.
It is a beautiful thing to help another through the gate of faith to worship God in his temple.
V. Cycle Five
A. Narrative vv. 9-26
Now when someone is praising God because of a miracle, it is hard not to draw a crowd.
This kind of reminds us of something else that just happened not too far previous in Acts when the H.S. came upon the disciples with such a commotion that it got peoples' attention.
Here also an act of the H.S. has gotten attention.
Since this former beggar had been sitting at the gate for years, the people recognized him as the one who was crippled but could now walk.
The people were filled with amazement and wonder about what had happened to him.
So we see once again the way God works through those who are obedient to his command.
A divine opportunity has now opened for Peter to preach the message of the Christ who made this possible.
As Christians we must respond to the needs of those around us, thereby enabling us to give testimony of God's power to others on the fringes of faith.
Ministry produces ministry.
The kingdom of God advances when we do what we were called to do.
Indeed, when we do not do it, those on the fringes of faith will not be encouraged to follow Christ.
In fact, they will be discouraged from following Christ because of our indifference.
Those of us who possess the reality of the kingdom of God must make it real for others.
And the kingdom of God will know no bounds.
Verse 4:4 tells us that after the preaching of Peter, 5,000 more believed and became part of the kingdom of God.
This was all because Peter and John paid attention to a non-descript beggar who was crippled from birth.
And the needs of many were met.
And many cripples began to walk.
They understood that they too were beggars before the throne of God – just like you and me.
The unlovely had found beauty in Christ.
They had walked through the gate of faith.
The Big Answer:
As Christians we must respond to the needs of those around us
- by putting devotion to God first in our lives,
- by taking personal interest in those whom God reveals to us,
- by sharing with them the greatest gift of God we have ever received,
- and by bringing them along with us to worship God as part of his true family,
- thereby enabling us to give testimony of God's power to others on the fringes of faith.
Learning how to walk is a 'first-hand' experience. Offering your hand of faith is the first step in helping another walk toward the beauty of faith that is Christ. It only takes one to lead a parade.
Will you be that one for someone else?
Will you give your life in such devotion to God that you dare not miss that one that he would show you?
Will you take all people as serious candidates for his kingdom?
Will you take that outstretched hand to offer something more precious than gold?
Will you bring them to worship with you as part of your family in Christ?
You will then allow this testimony of beauty in Christ to become the headline across the hearts of many - that the hope of heaven is a reality.
You have helped another person, precious to God, to walk by faith in Christ.
Now we might ask if this has anything to do with our recognition of graduates today.
I think that it must be so.
All their training has been for the purpose of helping others walk.
They have been in training for ministry.
Let us celebrate and encourage one another in this most important kingdom task.
And may you graduates swell the ranks of the kingdom with the fruit of your faith.